As the make-your-own model grows synonymous with fast casuals, new sandwich spots are upgrading the handheld—not through customization, but with elevated ingredients and chef-crafted builds. And they have freedom for menu exploration, with half of 25- to 34-year-olds more likely to try unique flavors on sandwiches than other foods.1 These fast casuals are winning with signature stacks.
New York City, 1 unit
Despite the name, Make Sandwich is not a DIY concept. “We didn’t want make-your-own to be the focus … because the food is too damn good,” says founder Spencer Rubin, creator of grilled cheese spot Melt Shop. “[The menu] took nine months to create, and we want the food to speak for itself.”
Those “damn good” sandwiches range between $10 and $12, and include options such as Zucchini + Falafel, with miso charred zucchini, mushroom falafel and tomato pepper confit; and Turkey + Gouda, with slow-roasted turkey, smoked cheese, pickled apples and chili-celery mayo.
Rubin and culinary partner Josh Sharkey had developed the sandwiches for Melt Shop, but thought the options were too high-end, and bet they could stand in their own concept. So Melt’s parent company Aurify Brands dished out for Make Sandwich. Without the assembly line-style, the smaller 600-square-foot space saves on real estate costs. Make was developed to be scalable, although Rubin plans to grow through company-owned units.
Washington, D.C., 1 unit
On Rye mashes the nostalgia of a Jewish deli with today’s trends. Bread choices include traditional and gluten-free rye; the sandwiches aren’t overstuffed with meat; and two of the six Reuben variations are vegetarian (smoked beet and portabella-broccoli). There’s a bar serving beer, wine and champagne, plus free Wi-Fi and charging outlets.
Sessions West Coast Deli
Orange County, Calif., 2 units
Sessions’ founders put a West Coast spin on the East Coast deli concept. Its sandwiches and all-day breakfast options cater to surfers, skaters and health-conscious consumers with scratch-made ingredients, such as the Summer Zephyr, with marinated tomato, arugula, mozzarella, basil aioli and pickled onion. Two units are on the Pacific, but it’s venturing inland to Irvine, Calif., this fall for a third.
Stacked Sandwich Shop
Portland, Ore., 1 unit
Launched by a fine-dining vet, Stacked’s sandwiches range from an $8 grilled cheese with truffle cheese and garlic butter to a $14 roasted lamb leg option. Those dining in can order open-faced options and visit the full-service bar with seasonal cocktails. Wine bottles, canned wine and bottled beers are also available to go.